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Newly implemented lab fees shock science students

While many other universities only offer laboratory classes to upperclassmen, Mills students are given the opportunity much earlier. (Photo by Octavia Sun)
While many other universities only offer laboratory classes to upperclassmen, Mills students are given the opportunity much earlier. (Photo by Octavia Sun)

 This spring, when students in the science department looked at their tuition bills they were shocked to see a lab fee, something that Mills College has never charged before.

“I recognize, after years of not having one, students are probably wondering why now?” said Kimberley L. Phillips, the provost and dean of faculty.

According to Phillips, laboratory fees were discussed among the administrators in the last academic year (2012-13) and faculty prior to her arrival at Mills in July 2013. Because the materials used in science laboratory classes as well as the resources needed to maintain the laboratories can be very costly, the Provost and other members of the budget committee had to find ways to offset that cost. 

“I think there were different approaches from the different departments about how to pay for materials in the sciences,” Phillips said.

According to Tammi D. Jackson, treasurer and vice president of Finance and Administration, the budget committee conducted research on how much other schools charge for laboratory fees and then calculated what they thought would be an optimal amount to cover the costs of running the laboratory and the materials used. 

According to Jackson, the budget committee questioned why Mills has not enacted laboratory fees in the past.

Dr. Lisa Urry, the department head of biology, recognizes that the laboratory fees may pose a challenge for some students.

“I worry some students won’t be able to afford it,” Urry said. “But I at least would like to make sure that if we do have lab fees, that they would go towards significantly improving the experience of the students who are in science. That’s really important.”

The laboratory fees came as a surprise to Kaila Stevenson, a senior chemistry major and organic chemistry laboratory teaching assistant (TA).

(Photo by Octavia Sun)
(Photo by Octavia Sun)

“I did not know there was a lab fee at all until it was suddenly deducted from my account,” Stevenson said.

LeAnn Duong, a first year post-baccalaureate student, is currently taking all four of the science core laboratory classes (general chemistry, biology, organic chemistry, and physics) and was also upset to find out about the newly enacted fees.

“It is an additional burden,” Duong said. “I am paying several hundred dollars in lab fees alone.”

While many were caught off guard by the laboratory fees, some had been expecting them. In fact, many of the students and faculty were surprised that the fees were not imposed sooner.

Fiona Fotherby, a senior chemistry major and organic chemistry laboratory TA, thinks laboratory fees are necessary for the department to continue to balance their budget.

“It also is practical and gets students thinking about how not everything is free,” Fotherby said. “Even disposing of chemicals costs money.”

Urry does not think it is unusual to have laboratory fees because a lot of institutions have them, especially since lab courses tend to be more expensive due to the materials used.

Although Stevenson was initially surprised to be charged a laboratory fee, she agrees that they are necessary.

“I definitely understand the need to charge a lab fee for chemistry labs because chemicals are already expensive,” Stevenson said. “I’m kind of in shock we did not have them until now.”

According to Urry, the number of students interested in biology is increasing quickly. An increase in students enrolling in laboratory courses leads to an increased necessity for laboratory materials and other resources.

Because many other institutions do not offer laboratory classes until students are upperclassmen, students at Mills feel that they are given an advantage over others.

“Mills science students have the advantage where we actually get to interact with and learn how to use the machinery, something that gives grads an edge,” Stevenson said.

Phillips feels that laboratory classes are important for science students.

“We have to ask: how do we provide new opportunities for our students?” Phillips said. “We have a balance in the college between being a teaching institution, and providing our students with research experiences whether in the lab or in the field.”

Mills is dedicated to continuing these opportunities for its students.

“As an institution, we are proud of our history, providing a robust education for women, in particular, in the sciences and we’re all eager to find additional resources to support this mission,” Phillips said.